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Ukraine, Peachtree Corners Connected by Family, Ministry

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Peachtree Corners Business Association donates $500 to Mission To The World at its March 31 Business After Hours Speaker Series. Pictured from left: PCBA Secretary Donna Linden, PCBA President Lori Proctor and Cartee Bales, Senior Director of Field Operations for Gwinnett County-based Mission To the World.

Resident recounts anguish of family fleeing war-torn country; non-profit shares details of mission work.

With the continued war in Ukraine, people all over the world are concerned about the fate of civilians who are finding themselves as collateral damage in Russia’s push to control the country. Many, however, have family and other loved ones still in Ukraine or struggling to find refuge in other countries.

One Peachtree Corners resident, Alan Kaplan, has been active on social media and other platforms educating his neighbors about the challenges. Most recently, he spoke to members and guests of the Peachtree Corners Business Association (PCBA) at its Business After Hours Speakers Series.

Alan Kaplan

Kaplan’s in-laws are Ukrainian citizens. When the first attack occurred, the family had been prepared to leave their home in Kyiv, but so were thousands of others.

“I remember my wife Zhenia telling my sister-in-law to go and pack,” Kaplan told the crowd of nearly 50 attendees. “They thought it was an overreaction but about March 3, my sister-in-law (Irina) and my handicapped 14-year-old niece (Veronika) went to board a train for a 14-hour train ride to a western city in Ukraine.”

The crush of people was so great, his brother-in-law (Valentine) lifted the girl above the throng and waded through to get his wife and daughter on the train.

Kaplan’s mother-in-law (Lubov), who wasn’t ready to abandon her home, was convinced three days later to get on a bus out of the country. Fortunately for her, she missed the initial bus because what normally took 30 minutes from her house to get to this location was kind of tricky. It took three hours due to all the road checks and the traffic.

“The initial bus just dropped people at the border and you’d end up on another type of bus where they were distributed, typically to Romania or to different places,” said Kaplan.

“But the bus she ended up on was sponsored by a synagogue. And it went from one synagogue in Kyiv all the way to the capital of Moldova. So rather than being in a large evacuation refugee center, she ended up sharing a room with three other people in one of the classrooms in the synagogue.”

Although his mother-in-law was safe, the family didn’t have consistent communication with her, so they had no idea where she was. She was at the synagogue for 10 days.

“We knew that she was getting on a bus. We didn’t know where she would end up. We didn’t know where she was going,” Kaplan said. “Thankfully, we were able to keep in touch periodically by cell phone.”

Mass evacuations

Kaplan explained that at the time, the U.S. had no established refugee status for Ukrainians. Of course, his 82-year-old mother-in-law was welcomed to live with his family, but it wasn’t that simple.

“The United States still doesn’t have a good process in place to bring refugees here, particularly refugees with family members here,” he said. “We can sponsor them, bring them here and take care of them, but that really wasn’t in place, much less any social programs.”

Once in Moldova, Lubov was in contact with an Israeli consulate. “We were able to get her visa and the opportunity to go to Israel,” said Kaplan.

After 30 days in Israel, Lubov was eligible to receive a place to stay social service benefits to help support her in her new life. “She’ll have some means to be able to take care of herself. And she’ll have other programs available to her,” Kaplan explained.

Once she’s established in Israel, she can visit family in the United States for many months at a time and the Kaplans can go there to see her.

“So thankfully she’s now stable and in a great place,” said Kaplan.

Irina and Veronika, Kaplan’s sister-in-law and niece, are still in western Ukraine.

“We’ve been talking with them about making a change because I don’t think any of us fully understand the future of Ukraine,” he said. “What’s been holding her up is that her husband, my brother-in-law, can’t leave for a couple of reasons.”

Besides the manifests—most Ukrainian men ages 18 to 60 have been banned from leaving the country in anticipation that they may be called to fight—he has an elderly mother who is in extremely ill health and is in no condition to make the journey.

Kaplan teared up a little as he continued. “As difficult as this story is for my family personally, it’s one of the best stories there. Look at the people that are in the towns that can’t get out. They don’t have water. They don’t have electricity. That’s a true tragedy. We’re lucky.”

He added, “We’re grateful for everybody coming together in this situation. … I appreciate everybody’s care and focus on what’s going on.”

Besides Kaplan’s account of his family’s peril, PCBA invited Cartee Bales, Senior Director of Field Operations for Gwinnett County-based Mission To the World (MTW), to share his recent experiences after returning in late March from the Ukrainian region where he was providing compassionate relief for those impacted there.   

MTW Missionary Bob Burnham helped several families with rides to the border, but due to traffic, they had to walk up to 10 miles in the mud with luggage, pets and little children in tow, only to reach already packed borders with no bathroom facilities along the way, or food available, in near-freezing temps. The train stations are overrun with tens of thousands of people and sometimes the trains don’t show up. Courtesy MTW


Mission of compassion, caring

Bales said he was all too familiar with the tragedies suffered in Ukraine right now. He had returned to the U.S. less than a week before attending the PCBA event on Thursday, March 31.

“There is incredible suffering that’s taking place (in Ukraine) right now,” he said. “But it’s a beautiful heartbreak because so many people are engaging to help rescue people and to help them begin to rebuild their lives.”

As an arm of the Presbyterian Church in America, Mission To The World has 600-plus people working at countries throughout the world.

“We’re doing everything from training pastors and starting seminaries and planting churches to running large AIDS/HIV clinics, running anti-sex trafficking programs… and a number of other things that address suffering in the world,” said Bales.

Ukraine is now one of those places, as people stream out from ground and missile attacks. Even though, unlike Kaplan, his family isn’t personally affected, it still takes a toll on the human spirit.

Bales said it’s heartbreaking to see “the flow of people with their one (suitcase)—and that’s if they’re allowed to take their possessions,” he said.

He saw them not only in Ukraine but also wandering the streets of places like Bucharest, Krakow and Warsaw, having escaped the war, but not knowing the next chapter of their fate.

“We’ve had teams working in the region in Ukraine and Russia for decades. And when Russia invaded Ukraine, which was unexpected until it finally happened, we began forming caravans of people in their cars—and in any kind of vehicle—to go together,” he said.

Because of rationing, each motorist was allowed only three liters of petrol a day—that’s less than a gallon. And the journey out of the country or to a safer part of the country was often hours away.

“By the time we get to a border crossing, it’s nine to 12 hours in line just to get across,” Bales added.

Pastor Ivan in the Kyiv region said his area was one of the first to be attacked. Immediately, the life and ministry of the church were completely redefined and reformed. Although many members of the church had to evacuate to a safe place, part of the church remained in Kyiv. MTW continues to distribute humanitarian aid and deliver food and medicine to those in need. For several Sundays after the invasion, worship was limited to online sermons and devotion at home. Finally, on Sunday, April 10, the church managed to get together for a worship service in the building of the ERSU Seminary. Courtesy MTW

Homeless refugees

Bales’ team made it into Lviv and rented every space they could find in every house and every hotel. They discovered that many who fled left keys to their home with a note saying anyone was welcome to use it.

“We’ve been fortunate to take advantage of that,” said Bales. “And those were just temporary stops. Because people then need to get out of the way. So our teams in Krakow have been getting supplies that are needed in Ukraine.”

And the vans aren’t just delivering supplies; they are also evacuating people who want to leave.

“It’s beautiful to see how the world is coming together, standing there on the border and seeing Israel and Ireland and India and USA and all these countries with hot food and clothes, a safe shelter for women and children, and toys for kids just to help them begin rebuilding what’s been lost,” said Bales.

To help keep the mission going, PCBA donated $500 to MTW and included a one-year membership to the association.

“When we have these opportunities for things that go beyond our business networking, it reinforces these relationships that were built out of business. Our professional relationships are as much about the people as they are about the businesses, and I’ve never seen a business succeed without community,” said PCBA President Lisa Proctor.

That’s why she was excited to bring Kaplan and Bales to the mixer. She wanted to emphasize that the community is just around the corner as well as half a world away.

Information about PCBA: peachtreecornersba.com

Information about Mission To The World’s involvement in Ukraine: mtw.org/ukraine-crisis.

Arlinda Smith Broady is part of the Boomerang Generation of Blacks that moved back to the South after their ancestors moved North. With approximately three decades of journalism experience (she doesn't look it), she's worked in tiny, minority-based newsrooms to major metropolitans. At every endeavor she brings professionalism, passion, pluck, and the desire to spread the news to the people.

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City Government

Community forum to address crime, safety issues in Peachtree Corners

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UPCCA hosts annual COPS program to allow face-to-face dialogue among residents, stakeholders and law enforcement.

Overnight car break-ins and vandalism, ruffians blocking key intersections and putting lives in danger with reckless stunts, bullying and name-calling at schools escalating to terrorist threats and violence – none of those scenarios are what Peachtree Corners residents want to see in their community. To inform residents and stakeholders of law enforcement actions to curb and eliminate this type of lawlessness, United Peachtree Corners Civic Association invites everyone to its annual C.O.P.S. Program. Set for 7 p.m. Thursday, May 26 at Christ The King Lutheran Church, 5575 Peachtree Parkway government officials and police agencies will discuss crime prevention and present local Peachtree Corners crime statistics.

Among invited presenters are Mayor Mike Mason, the new Gwinnett County Chief of Police J.D. McClure, Major Edward Restrepo, commander of the West Gwinnett Precinct, MPO Andres Camacho, District 1 Community Oriented Police Service, a Gwinnett County Schools resource officer and other community leaders who will be available for questions and answers.

“With all that’s going on in the world now, we are thankful to have our lovely pocket of relative peace here in Peachtree Corners,” said Matt Lombardi, president of UPCCA. “But there’s a perception that it’s gotten worse for crime in the last few years.”

Like many suburban areas of the country, Peachtree Corners has been victim of so called “takeovers” where groups of teens and young adults converge on a usually busy intersection and  show off stunt driving like doing “donuts” and “drifting.” With no regard to traffic or vehicular safety, there are often fireworks and sometimes weapons discharged as well as kids hanging recklessly out of cars.

Recently, a combined effort from several local law enforcement agencies took down one weekend gathering, but with school out and summer almost in full swing, it’s inevitable that more will come.

That’s one of the major topics that will be discussed at the meeting, said Lombardi, along with a look at license plate readers, the effects of crime on property values and other issues.

One topic that has been on the minds of some, said Lombardi, is the question of whether it’s time for Peachtree Corners to have its own police force. As it is now, Gwinnett County police provide protection as well as the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s office.

Instead of leaving the question lingering, this is an opportunity for residents to speak their minds.

“UPCCA is one of the few organizations in metro Atlanta that brings people to face-to-face with the law enforcement community,” said Lombardi. “It’s important to know who’s protecting you and your property and how it’s being handled.”

Information: upcca.org

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Business

PCBA Panel Gives Insights into City’s Growth, Development

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Visionaries see smart expansion for Peachtree Corners.

In a city that’s a hotbed of economic development, technological advancement and residential properties, it’s important for residents and stakeholders to keep informed about what’s going on today and what’s planned. To aid with that undertaking, Peachtree Corners Business Association convened a panel of local influencers at its April Business After Hours Speaker Series at Atlanta Marriott Peachtree Corners.

Moderated by Amanda Pearch, the CEO and principal of Forsyth Business RadioX, a community focused company that produces, promotes, distributes and markets online radio shows and podcasts for businesses, the panelists were a diverse mix of local movers and shakers which included:

  • Joe Sawyer, Peachtree Corners City Councilman at Large, a resident of Peachtree Corners since 1994. He recently became the first person of color elected to the City Council. Sawyer has owned Alpha & Omega Carpet Cleaning in Peachtree Corners since 2001 and has been a preacher since 1998.
  • Sue Storck, with North American Properties, the general manager for the Forum on Peachtree Parkway. She has been in property management since 2007 in Florida and Georgia.
  • James Winston, the director of construction at AHS Residential, a company that develops, builds and manages multifamily housing in metro Atlanta. He has 17 years of experience in real estate development.
  • Michael Pugh, a partner at the law firm of Thompson, O’Brien, Kappler & Nasuti, P.C. He concentrates his legal practice on the representation of businesses, banks, credit unions and commercial finance companies in secured transactions, financial workouts, asset recovery and liquidation and lender liability defense in both state and federal court, including federal bankruptcy court.
  • Louis Svehla, communications director for the city of Peachtree Corners.He has years of experience in journalism and public relations.
  • Rico Figliolini, a longtime Peachtree Corners resident and the publisher and executive editor of Peachtree Corners Magazine. He is also a creative director and social media strategist, three-time magazine publisher and podcast host.

Growth opportunities

The group started off discussing some identifiable opportunities for growth in Peachtree Corners. With so much emphasis on what’s happening in the northern part of the city, Sawyer said developers need to start looking to the city’s south side.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for growth on the south side,” he said. “You see the townhomes going up and you haven’t seen houses going up for a long time. That’s where the next wave of growth will come.”

Svehla agreed. “I think redevelopment is really the big thing. Joe got it completely right. Housing is probably not going to happen unless it’s redevelopment of older neighborhoods,” he said. “Just like what’s happening with The Forum, the future is multi-use type facilities.”

Pearch parlayed that response into a question for the home builder. “Well, the prediction is we’re going to find very efficient and innovative ways of finding solutions for this housing problem that we have,” Winston responded. “We know everybody is looking for…  housing that’s reasonably priced. We have a way of building and approaching our projects that I think is going to fit into the fabric of what this whole community is looking for. They’re trying to be innovative, looking for something that’s going to have an impact to the community. And we’re doing just that by rehabbing, basically, an existing property.”

Storck expanded on that concept with what’s happening right now with The Forum. “On our side, it’s experiential. …This is probably a very overused phrase, but ‘live, work and play’ is a trend that works,” she said. “With our tenants, we have a built-in customer base. The restaurants have built-in patrons, but it’s about an experience. Shopping is not… what it used to be. You don’t go window shopping anymore; you have a destination. So, our plan and our goal are to bring that opportunity to the property, to be able to host larger events and gatherings, whether it’s a tailgate party… or the Christmas tree lighting or concert series or a fitness series.”

Talking about developers dove-tailed into Pugh’s business. “One of the biggest advantages for Peachtree Corners is that it’s close enough to the city [of Atlanta] so that people inside the perimeter are comfortable coming here, and since it’s not in downtown Atlanta, we get people who don’t want to fight traffic in town,” he said.

All those factors feed into each other, said Figliolini. Having a publication that’s focused on the lifestyle of a community that fulfills the demand for a high quality of life with entertainment, retail and employment opportunities nearby allows him to put more emphasis on the message than the medium.

“Print is sort of a dying business. I can say this because I’ve been in the business for a long time,” Figliolini said. “We curate news in the community and people consume it in a variety of ways. Whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, it doesn’t matter. …Advertising is a long game. …Companies come to us. We have several corporate sponsors that are supporting local journalism, for example, so they’re not necessarily buying advertising as much as supporting news.”

Accolades and suggestions for the city

The panelists gave their perspective on what Peachtree Corners is doing right and what the city should do more of. Among the top recommendations is preparing the area for changes that have already been indicated. For example, the uptick in highly skilled jobs is affecting employment rates. Supply chain issues are challenging consumerism and access to technology is making a difference on how people live their lives.

“Roughly 65% of the existing labor force is almost set to retire,” said Winston. “So, we have to replenish that, and we also have to find ways to manage that and to find innovative ways of doing construction. We know we’re going to have challenges with the labor, in addition to all the materials. …Everybody is reading the articles about how prices are going up.”

Sawyer pointed out that Peachtree Corners is growing in smart ways and every new development is people centered. “I think we are probably one of the smartest cities, as far as technology. …What other city in the South has an app that, when you sit at a red light, the app on your phone tells you when the light is changing?” he said.

“A couple of months ago, we had Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg here to study our transportation sector,” added Svehla. “Everybody wants to come to Peachtree Corners because of all the innovative things that are going on here. I’m working to try to give Raphael Warnock an opportunity to see Curiosity Lab. …We don’t really have to reach out to anyone anymore because the word is out that we’re the most diverse city in the state.”

Perspectives on the future

In looking ahead, all the panelists agreed that Peachtree Corners has a solid future outlook and growth strategies. Pearch asked the panelists where Peachtree Corners, in general — and their industry, specifically — will be in three years, five years and 10 years.

Storck said, “The retail world is different, because some ways, the retail world hasn’t changed. We still have the brick and mortar as well as Amazon, so there are parts that will stay the same. But I think in three years, we are we are going to be fully redeveloped and we are going to be moving at a very fast pace. [The Forum] is going to be hosting 200-plus events a year and we are going to have opened quite a few new retailers. In five and 10 years, we’ll still continue that course. Because everything is cyclical and we go through changes, we have to adapt as well.”

Pugh added, “The legal industry is the dinosaur of all industries. If the legal world has adopted something, it’s been adopted across the board. I think that law firms’ sizes are going to shrink. I think that office space is going to shrink, and I think more and more attorneys and more and more businesses are going to go paperless. …I think that more and more are going to start incorporating the use of [artificial intelligence] in their in their work, where typically you would have a new associate coming out of law school doing research eight hours a day. You now have a computer program that does it for you.”

Winston noted, “Nowadays, with an age of social media, [job seekers] are able to see so many other options more easily, and people are able to tailor it to make it more marketable. That’s not always what you see in the construction industry. …You could start off learning mechanical, HVAC work, plumbing or electrical and branch off into a completely different sector of that same industry, or branch off more into real estate, because it really is part of the same pie at the end of the day.”

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Community

UPCCA Extends Deadline For Annual Scholarship

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UPCCA Scholarship

The United Peachtree Corners Civic Association is back this year with its annual Community Service Scholarship. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the organization to make changes in the process, the organization is back to the original award of $1,000 each for two high school seniors who reside in Peachtree Corners and have made the commitment to volunteer outside of school hours during their high school years. 

“Every year, the committee weighs several factors, community service, extracurricular activities and things like that,” said UPPCA President Matt Lombardi. “We’re looking for students who personify our community values.”

Last year’s winner used the scholarship money to purchase a 3D printer and made mask clips that helped secure masks that had to be worn during the nationwide mask mandate, said Lombari adding that it’s that kind of selfless act that makes the awardee stand out.

“And it doesn’t matter what kind of secondary education they’re pursuing,” said Lombardi. “It can be a four-year university, a vocational school or whatever works for the recipient.”

The deadline this year has been extended to May 31 to give students an opportunity to “get back to normal.”

Last year UPCCA awarded three $1,000 scholarships and has toyed with the idea of increasing the amount.

“But we don’t want to be competitive with other non-profits in the area,” said Lombardi.

While the pandemic made it necessary for the award presentation to be held outdoors, this year it will be a Peachtree Corners Baptist Church.

Any high school senior who resides in the 30092 ZIP code is eligible to apply, regardless of where they attend school.

Scholarship application process:

• Complete the Online Scholarship Application. The online application includes areas to upload your documentation for the essay and service activities. 

• Write and/or video a 300-word essay about community service work that had the greatest influence and why. 

• Include a listing of all community service activities participated in while in high school.

The winners will be chosen strictly on their participation in community service.

For more information: In order to qualify for one of the two UPCCA scholarship, you must live within Peachtree Corners and/or be a member of the UPCCA. Click here for information on becoming a member of UPCCA  or contact UPCCA President Matt Lombardi at 770-548-2989.

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